On a Chicago street an elderly man upped to a perfect stranger and said: "Pardon me, may I test your blood?" The indignant citizen calmed down when he discovered who his questioner was: Dr. Oliver Clarence Wenger, top-flight syphilologist in the U.S. Public Health Service. This was the latest wrinkle in a much-wrinkled campaign against venereal disease which City and State health departments have been waging for four years.
Chief publicist of the campaign is Chicago's bouncing Health Commissioner, Dr. Herman Niels Bundesen. He has made frequent headlines by running "diet derbies," endorsing sauerkraut juice for health, giving his blood to sick babies, opposing the construction of a skyscraper because it would shut off sunlight from the streets. Since the best way to fight syphilis is to drag it into the open, Dr. Bundesen and aids have pulled down Chicago's syphilis rate in the last three years from 7% to 4.2%.
Many a public health authority thought that Dr. Bundesen's Blitzkrieg of publicity might stamp out Chicago syphilis by 1945. Besides wholesale blood-testing, Dr. Bundesen plans to hound every person who has a venereal disease into hospitals. He also threatened to tack up red quarantine posters on houses of prostitution where the inmates resist treatment. Every person who crosses the threshold of such a quarantined house will be liable to a fine of $200 and six months in jail.
Other items in the big Bundesen Blitz:
> City hospitals plan to treat early cases of syphilis with the five-day arsenic drip method (TIME, April 22, 1940). Since it seems that heavy doses of arsenic compound drain the body's supply of vitamin C, Federal Surplus Commodities Corp. has agreed to provide extra fruits and vegetables in an attempt to bolster up a number of reliefers with venereal infections.
> All elementary schoolchildren in Chicago were recently tested for venereal infections. Almost a thousand cases of congenital syphilis were found; all the children are now under treatment.
> Most citizens approve of the campaign. Two years ago Dr. Bundesen (stretching his position as regional consultant for the U.S. Public Health Service) franked 1,500,000 letters to heads of Chicago families, asking them to come to Board of Health stations for blood tests. Results: over a million replied; 56,000 new cases of syphilis were uncovered.